Friday, February 20, 2015

The CSM X Election: You Can't Spell Surprise Without CCP Rise

In U.S. presidential politics, an unexpected event that occurs in the closing days of an election is called an "October surprise", due to the timing of the election in November.  In EVE Online, the elections don't occur in a fixed month, so we don't have a handy phrase to use when an unexpected event happens at the end of the CSM election campaign season.  But with the meta heavily favoring espousing revamping EVE's new player experience (NPE), CCP Rise dropped a bombshell.

The development team that CCP Rise works on, Team Pirate Unicorns, has worked on revamping the NPE for at least a year, as their efforts first emerged at Fanfest last year.  And yesterday, CCP Rise published a dev blog with an update, less than a week before the election.  Here are some of the highlights:

I like the theory behind the new "Opportunities" system.  Take away the linear, themepark style experience new players currently don't enjoy and replace it with a system that allows the player to progress in a way the player chooses.  No more getting stuck on a mission.  No more having to find one particular agent in a station.  Just go wherever you want and do whatever you want.  Of course, if Team Pirate Unicorns had decided to get rid of Aura, they would have seen players shooting monuments in Jita.  Good thing they decided to keep her around.

I think one of the sites, the Rogue Cloning Facility, is already on Tranquility and I'll need to visit one this weekend.  I'm also all in favor of starting new players in space, in a ship, in their own dungeon, to begin the game.  Once they learn how to warp away, they are out of the womb and into the dangerous world of New Eden.

I should copy and paste three main points that I really like from the dev blog:

The core system we are using to drive the NPE is called ‘Opportunities’. Aura (we decided to keep her around) will introduce new players to opportunities in New Eden that they can investigate and complete. Each Opportunity consists of a set of tasks which must be completed to finish the Opportunity. Each task will have some explanation of how it can be completed. Simple.
There’s a couple very important principles in this system that we are working hard to preserve that I want to go over quickly:
NO MORE LINEAR TRACKSFirstly, you can complete opportunities in any order you like and can always see all opportunities available from this tree view (work in progress):

This means no more getting stuck on a step that you can’t figure out until you’re so mad that you give up on EVE forever. It also means you can do the things you’re interested in right away without having to slog through a bunch of steps that you don’t need.
It’s very important to us that you can complete opportunity tasks however you like. For instance, if there is a task in an opportunity to dock at a station, you can dock at any station. This small distinction from the old tutorial means that we no longer have to trust people will find a particular item, location or agent to move forward. Not only does it mean that players have a lot more freedom in how they move through the NPE, but it also means we can provide opportunities to do things like join a fleet, kill another player or go to 0.0 space. In turn, this allows us to introduce a huge range of concepts that are essential to playing EVE but could never be explained in missions without simply having an agent describe them in a giant wall of text (much like this blog is turning out to be).
One of the most fundamental principles for the new NPE is that we want to do less hand-holding. We think players will be more likely to learn, and more likely to have fun if they get to experiment, discover, and even fail as they explore New Eden. As a result, there is deliberately less explanation in the opportunities system than there was in the tutorials. Again, we need to use testing to find out exactly how little explanation we can get away with but our internal testing suggests that we don’t need a lot.

Now, some of what CCP Rise presented will upset some candidates.  I get the feeling that those candidates wanted to double-down on the NPE and make the experience even more story-driven, with others wanting even more walls of text.  But the trend in game development today is to try to get players to naturally learn the game without having to read a lot of text.  Today's generation of MMORPG players don't read quest text.  Reading how the game actually works?  Yeah, right.

Overall, I like how Team Unicorn Pirates is trying to make the NPE and learning how to play EVE more sandboxy.  Making a themepark, ride-on-rails NPE that lasts 2-3 weeks then turning the game into a sandbox would result in a reaction similar to that experienced by Age of Conan players after finishing the Tortage content when AoC launched.  Lots of outrage.  In EVE, the shooting of monuments in Jita would probably soon follow.

Now, how will this affect the election?  Personally, I wasn't a big fan of candidates who made the NPE a central part of their platform.  With the dev blog, voters can now tell if a candidate is thinking along the lines of CCP.  Quite frankly, vote for those candidates, because I think they understand the sandbox better than those who wanted a more linear experience.

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